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TO ROME WITH LOVE

SYNOPSIS:
On holidays in Rome, successful architect John (Alec Baldwin), who lived there 30 years earlier, meets student architect Jack (Jesse Eisenberg). John becomes involved in Jack's love life: his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig) and flirtatious friend Monica (Ellen Page). At the same time, retired opera director Jerry (Woody Allen) arrives in Rome with his psychiatrist wife Phyllis (Judy Davis) to meet their daughter's future husband Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti). When Jerry hears Michelangelos's funeral director father Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato) singing in the shower, he wants to kickstart his career and come out of retirement. In other unrelated stories, Leopoldo Pisanello (Roberto Benigni), a rather dull man wakes one day to find himself a celebrity with the paparazzi on his tail and newlywed Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) introduces a prostitute (Penelope Cruz) as his wife while his bride is flattered by a movie star (Antonio Albanese).

Review by Louise Keller:
There a frenzy of activity with abundant characters, fast one liners, amusing moments and clever ideas in Woody Allen's love letter to Rome, although after the finesse of Midnight in Paris, it seems rather trivial. Essentially, it is a handful of skits that are mostly played for laughs, although that's not to say you can't have fun with this farce-filled comedy. In a way, the pace created by leapfrogging from one subplot to another and back again could be a reflection of chaotic Italian life. It's as though Woody Allen and his celebrity friends have descended on the Eternal City, had a quick look at the sights and played out a few of Allen's fantasies as part of an actor's workshop. It's upbeat and bright, guarantees some laughs but never really gels, its stories being too disconnected and leaving nothing to cling onto, except the superficial.

There's a vague echo with Midnight, with Alex Baldwin playing a famous American architect trying to recapture the magic of the year he spent in Rome 30 years earlier. In a clever construct that never fully works, Allen juxtaposes the successful architect with the student (Jesse Eisenberg, complete with Allen mannerisms), offering the wise voice of experience, when it comes to the student's love life. Greta Gerwig plays the thankless role of Eisenberg's naïve girlfriend, who introduces him to her man-eater out-of-work actress friend, played to perfection by Ellen Page. The fact that only Eisenberg (and we, the audience) can see Baldwin, never sits comfortably.

The story in which Allen himself appears as a paranoid, retired opera director who equates retirement with death and a colostomy bag brings the film's most novel idea. With Judy Davis (wonderful) as Allen's psychiatrist wife who continually analyses her husband, the couple has just arrived to meet future son-in-law Michaelangelo (Flavio Parenti). The fact that Michaelangelo's funeral director father, comically played by tenor Fabio Armiliato, sings Pagliacci beautifully in the shower, but only the shower, allows Allen to throw a twist on the idea - to great effect. I like the line in which Michaelangelo says his father sings for pleasure not money, to which Allen retorts 'There's a lot of pleasure to be had from money.' The other good line comes when the mortician asks 'Is someone dead?' to which Allen replies 'No, but it's early.'

There are two other twists on ideas, the first being that of The Other Woman. The set up is far too complex for the pay off but Penelope Cruz is scrumptious as the well endowed prostitute squeezed in a tiny red excuse of a dress and who throws herself at a nervous newlywed. The other twist is on the concept of celebrity: in this segment, Roberto Benigni plays a dull Mr Nobody who suddenly becomes the centre of attention; the paparazzi pack quizzing him on his every insignificant detail of his insignificant life.

Rome looks beautiful as you would expect but the music is too predictable for my liking with old standards like Volare and Arrivederci Roma feeling a tad out of date. The film is breezy and fun but always feels like a smorgasbord, rather than a good meal.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
I have to single out - or should that be triple out - Judy Davis, Alec Baldwin and Penelope Cruz for delivering the only credible and watchable performances in this latest film by enthusiastically converted travelling filmmaker Woody Allen. Out of a main cast of a dozen or so, that's not enough, in my view, to carry what is a misjudged screenplay and a loosely directed film. As Allen flies (which he never used to do) from Barcelona to Paris and now to Rome, he takes with him his well rehearsed view of human nature - at least a certain, neurotic group.

To Rome With Love invites comparisons with Midnight in Paris - to the former's detriment.

Opening and closing with Volare, one of the corniest in the Italian pop song repertoire, Allen wears the corny badge with pride throughout; missing is his usually astute taste in jazzy scores, replaced by overtly (corny) Italianate songs, almost without respite, until the end.

Allen creates a series of vignettes and populates them with overacted characters, most of whom have irritating mannerisms and boring conversations, to deliver some overstated satire in an underwhelming comedy.

Judy Davis shines with authenticity as Phyllis, the grounded and straight talking wife to Allen's retired opera director, Jerry. Alec Baldwin is dryly entertaining as John, the wiser and richer architect who meets student architect Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) and turns into a sort of supernatural kibitzer to Jack, advising him and debunking the fakery of pseudo sophisticated actress Monica (Ellen Page). Allen's delightful touch with magic realism worked in Paris; it's deserted him in Rome.

And Penelope Cruz is smart and energetic as the sassy prostitute who begins by entering the wrong hotel room only to be drawn into the story pretending to be Antonio's wife - and ends by teaching Antonio a few tricks of her trade. Antonio is played by Alessandro Tiberi, who is allowed to overact embarrassingly as the nervous, newly married nerdy country bumpkin.

Monica is another overcooked goose of a young woman, whose role is to satirise those smug know-nothings who spout key lines from poetry and literature as if they knew what they were talking about. Her insincerity and baseness is characterised by making a beeline for her best friend's lover, Jack, and by her enthusiasm for a new role in a Hollywood movie which overrides her apparent idealism and romanticism. It's hardly original stuff.

Allen's satirical intent with Antonio Benigni's character is to show how celebrity is a shallow and fickle demon, but once it retreats, it is deeply missed. It's a trite observation that doesn't warrant Allen's energies, nor Benigni's.

Had Allen shepherded his themes with more discipline and resist the temptation to be too clever in putting all these characters and sketches together, and had he also resisted the temptation to play the irritating Jerry, he might have found some of the magic of Midnight in Paris. His one good crazy idea was to have Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato), the funeral director whose son is about to marry into Jerry's family, a secret opera singer - who sings in the shower. And only in the shower.



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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 1
Mixed: 1

TO ROME WITH LOVE (M)
(US/Italy/Spain, 2012)

CAST: Judy Davis, Flavio Parenti, Roberto Benigni, Alison Pill, Alessandro Tiberi, Alessandra Mastronardi, Alec Baldwin, Carol Alt, David Pasquesi, Antonio Albanese, Lynn Swanson, Fabio Armiliato, Ornella Muti, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, Woody Allen

PRODUCER: Faruk Alatan, Letty Aronson, Giampaolo Letta, Stephen Tenenbaum

DIRECTOR: Woody Allen

SCRIPT: Woody Allen

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Darius Khondji

EDITOR: Alisa Lepselter

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Anne Seibel

RUNNING TIME: 103 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 18, 2012







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